In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of banjos…
Hang on a minute! And yet, and yet – it’s that time again. As we (hopefully) approach the end of winter and Easter is on the horizon, it’s time to start planning for Sore Fingers bluegrass camp, which takes place annually in the scenic surroundings of the Cotswolds, here in the UK. Every year, some of the most talented bluegrass and old time musicians are brought over from the USA to tutor at the event, with attendees electing to study banjo, fiddle, mandolin, double bass, dobro, flatpicking guitar or singing. There are even classes for the unfathomably popular autoharp! 😉
I haven’t missed a year since first discovering Sore Fingers as a novice banjo player in 2008, and I’ve had the privilege of studying with Ron Block, Tony Furtado and Tony Trischka so far, all fantastic experiences in different ways. It’s really something to be able to sit right in front of some of the genre’s best musicians, learn from them and observe their playing and technique on such an intimate level. 2012’s banjo tutors include quirky solo artist Danny Barnes and Richard Bailey from the superb bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. This year however, I’ll be learning bluegrass fiddle with Becky Buller, which I’m really looking forward to. It was a tough choice between that and old time fiddle with Erynn Marshall, but in the end I decided that bluegrass is my main interest for jamming and hopefully at some stage, performing. One of the real joys of Sore Fingers is getting to see all the tutors perform at the various concerts that take place throughout the week. Check out the full complement of 2012 tutors here.
With five days of around four hours’ teaching a day, there’s plenty of tuition to benefit from, but that’s only one element of the SF experience. Jamming is one of the main delights of the week with a huge variety of informal sessions taking place during afternoon breaks and throughout the evening in the bar. When the weather is kind, there’s nothing finer than to sit out on the sweeping lawns of the school and pick and sing with like-minded folks. As mentioned, there are great concerts to attend in the evenings, with the tutors appearing in various combinations from solo right up to supergroup for the benefit of the eager student audiences. The week culminates in Friday night’s grand finale tutor concert which sees everyone packed into the assembly hall for a rich feast of music and fun, before repairing to the bar for the customary jam-to-end-all-jams.
Thursday night hosts a student concert featuring various scratch bands playing two songs each. This is one of the cornerstones of the Sore Fingers ethos; encouraging students to put into practice what they’ve learned and start playing with others. I first dared to take part in a scratch band in 2010 and was very fortunate that my band mates were a great bunch with several experienced musicians who kept us on the right track! I enjoyed the experience of rehearsing together every day – probably more than the actual performance, which was a bit nerve-racking! But the sense of achievement is wonderful and the audience of fellow students is very supportive – you get an especially big cheer if you mess up!
Eating is another important part of the week, with tasty and plentiful food being turned out by the cafeteria three times a day. The informal “queue up, grab a tray and find a seat” system also encourages students to mingle, chat and get to know other attendees. I’ve certainly made many friends and had priceless musical experiences over the years since first turning up on my own in 2008, not knowing a soul. It’s that kind of event. Why not check it out for yourself?
*with apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson